Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of oak it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving a loose to my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn’t blue,
But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

The water for which we may have to look
In summertime with a witching wand,
In every wheelrut’s now a brook,
In every print of a hoof a pond.
Be glad of water, but don’t forget
The lurking frost in the earth beneath
That will steal forth after the sun is set
And show on the water its crystal teeth.

The time when most I loved my task
The two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the wood two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps).
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
They judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay

And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right–agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Robert Frost's poem Two Tramps In Mud Time

32 Comments

  1. Radhaa Subhash says:

    ‘Two Tramps in a Mud Time’is a characteristically pecular poem.No other poem of Frost offers such an effective illustration of the movement and temper of his mind.I really enjoyed reading this narrative poem.

  2. kaustubh says:

    excellent poem by mr.robert frost

  3. bindu francis says:

    this poem is about love and labour, when one’s labour becomes his passion then the outcome will be wonderful. When the interest is only monetary,labour becomes monotonous. It is best to take up things in your stride and draw lessons from nature and move on.Even in march, one can feel april but it is only an illusion. Life’s illusions must teach us not to draw final conclusions but look at things positively. Love your work and work for love!
    Bindu francis

  4. Howard says:

    Hey, others see many things encompassed within.
    I received the last eight lines of this poem in 1961 I have never forgotten these lines, which, before anyone made the word “mantra” an “in” thing…THIS was mine… I Taught junior high school history for 34 years, Loved every day of it, and STILL these eight lines inform my labor of love and work..
    It’s a clear descriptive story, about seasons, those who “do it for money” and he who “does it for love”… then… his message is CLEAR there, in the last eight lines… NOTHING obscure. Make your work your play; THIS is what education should teach you… Enjoy it. HNB

  5. fariha says:

    i studied dis poem 4 mu assignment,i think frost is a poet who have a capability 2 describe many contradict ideas in one subject.like his poems,fire and ice and tree at my window and road not taken.the sun was warm but the wind was chill is the most beautiful line of the poem and also is the crux of the poem.it is surprising that being an american poet,frost has the spirit of puritans in this poem,specially in last stanza.he setteld the war between love and need.

  6. Eleanor says:

    I’m one of the many students studying Frost for English A Level and yes i do find people are reading too much into it sometimes but people read too much into any form of art. I can only take so much of poetry in general but Frost doesn’t do it for me, possibly because I’m not American. Sexual themes seem to run in Frost’s poems but i don’t think this is one. Apparently this poem was supposed to be theme around Work and Labour!

  7. David says:

    Two Tramps in Mud Time by Robert Frost relates to many of the capitalistic issues dealt with in today’s society. The subjects empathy is greatly appreciated by most readers because we empathize with the lumberjack’s capitalistic needs. What about the writer’s intrinsic psychological needs to enjoy what is rightfully his. He may not have a monetary tie to the chopping of the would, but is he fooling himself into thinking since he does not want to make money that the act itself isn’t worthwhile.

    Is there no compromise?

    I do have empathy for the tramps. They do not find enjoyment in what is beautiful to the narrator, it is only a job to them. My hope is that they can find beauty in their life’s work, that they can earn a living and obtain a sense of self on a wonderful day in the woods.

    The struggle is not amongst the characters, but withn the characters. We all struggle with finding meaning in our life’s work. Maybe we should all take some time to evaluate our legacies and remember what is important.

  8. IUYTR says:

    IN THIS POEM I SEE A NEW ENVISIONMENT OF LIFE. IT IS ABOUT THE LOVE AND NEED TO DO SOMETHING. FOR EG IF YOU LOVE ENGLISH/ AMERICAN LITERATURE YOU WILL PUT YOUR ALL BUT IF YOU NEED ITS DIFFERENT

  9. Gabriel Pinski says:

    I think the point of this poem is that we have to settle and that’s sad. I think that’s why the “sun was warm but the wind was chill.”

    The lumberjacks needed the work. And their need trumped the narrator’s pleasure. That’s life. We don’t get exactly what we want; we make sacrifices and compromises, because that’s the only humane thing to do. If we don’t, if we try to live as our heart longs, others suffer. That’s because our hearts, as made obvious by the course of history and the activities of the rich who could make choices, are egocentric.

    That’s why rich people cause so much damage. They’re trying to live the way they want to, and won’t compromise with the rest of us. The poem, I think, is about a person who, while he pays lip service to being socially conscious, resents the lumberjacks, the “hulking tramps,” for presenting their need in such a way that the narrator must give up his fun.

    I think it’s a poem about a rich person being bothered by a poor person. That’s how I take it. Even more, I think the rich person is trying to say that living as he wants is what Heaven will be like and the only way we’ll progress as a people, thus justifying his failure to “strike for the common good.”

    Like everyone, I want to love what I do, but there’s nothing wrong with compromising. That’s the only way we’ll reduce poverty, war, sexism, racism, etc…. Compromise is at the heart of politics. I know the hippie generation, all the baby-boomers taught us differently, but that’s because their own sense of entitlement trumps that of probably any generation before them.

  10. midhuna says:

    when we see thepoem TWO TRAMPS on the surface level its merely a story of two tramps and the owner of the wood.but when we see it psycologically it is a life struggle of the two tramps.

  11. Emily says:

    Eventhough Frost is an obvious lover of nature, his poems are well structured which takes a lot of discipline. Perhaps this discipline reflects the life of a person had a ‘life of self control’
    In stanzas 3 and 4 Frost describes a typical April day when the good weather is precarious because spring has not fully arrived yet. He uses the present tense.
    He again uses the present tense in the final stanza when he philosophisies about the meaning of the encounter with the lumberjacks.
    A major contasting theme in this poem is vocation (job) or avocation (hobby). Should the narrator (who we assume is Frost) expect to pay the ‘tramps’ for stealing their work?
    The last few lines are obscure and are open to interpretation, but he is perhaps saying that a person needs both aspects in this life. Both ‘love and need’, Both ‘work and play’ both ‘vocation’ and ‘avocation’ to be a complete human being.

  12. Kirsty lynn says:

    Robert Frost really inspired me with “The Road Not Taken”. It just really taught a good lesson to everyone no matter what age they are. You should always try to lead your own way with the guidence of others there to help you, but only you can pick you path.

  13. louis says:

    umm i think most of frost’s poems have references to death in them,
    aftewr reading a biography on him for english Alevel i have found out just apart everyone close to him died,
    his son shot himself with a shotgun,
    hes a bit wierd

  14. simon jones says:

    his poems prove that the mans mental frailties can be seen at the end of this poem pretty disstressing

  15. Georgie says:

    I am studying most of Robert frost’s poems and being honest, im not enjoying it one single bit. I think they are boring and some just go into too much detail and they drift of the subject which he began with. The poems are very cleverly written but don’t appeal to me at all.

  16. lizzie says:

    i am currently stuying have found his poem and have found it very detailed compared to the actual plot of the poem. one aspect focuses on the possibility of a sexual notion and that the sense that the love and need is related sex. Robert frost uses imagery and personification to emphasise the meaning.

  17. emily says:

    i am currently studying is for Alevel i am not enjoying it. people read to much into poems he may have just woken up one day and decided to write a poem, my teacher believes that its about sex, i do not agree with this. he may go on about love but not the love that we know as. i have enjoyed other poems from robert frost but this i just found monotonus, and repeatitive

  18. Ceri says:

    I think that many people have read too far into these poems as there are many sexual references that many people wouldn’t think of. The only relationship that i can seein this poem is the realtionship between the two tramps and the writer and also the relationship between the worker andhis love of work.

  19. Emma says:

    I’m studying this poem for AS level and I feel that it’s only talking about two tramps coming and wanting to chop wood. It’s boring and I think that Robert Frost wasn’t trying to make it sund different. I’ve heard that it refers to sex but we could say that about every poem ever written!!

  20. sandia says:

    i am currently studing this poem for Alevel and i love it!especially the 4th stanza where he uses paradoxial ideas to contrst the blue bird only as being the colour blue, not the feeling blue!!i think this relation can be given to everyday situations where different ideas can have multiple meanings and its up to us to decipher between them!! love SaN x

  21. holly says:

    i think frost is such an amazing and inspiring poet the way he relates his work to the seasons and experiences that have happened him concoct together such fantastic poems.i especially think two tramps in mud time is one of his bests due to his use of empathy and enjambement;out,out- is another of his great works

  22. Katie Shaw says:

    after reading this poem, i feel this is one of his many greats!

  23. Anna says:

    I do like Robert Frost’ poetry after studying his work for A/S English. But I find ‘Two Tramps in Mud Time’pretty boring. This poem does not interest me at all!

  24. Loretta says:

    I love this poem! For me, it resonates with the wisdom of lived experience and the joy of living from one’s centre. It clearly expresses the difference between regarding work as a means to an end and the vibrancy of seeing it as “play for mortal stakes”. I love the way Frost moves from an apparently trivial event to profounder insight. What a joy! 🙂

  25. beth says:

    we have to do this poem for english too and i dont really get it, i just find it boring.

  26. hk says:

    im having to do this poem as part of english A level, i cant stand this poem by robert frost, however i do believe that he is an amazing poet, only because i am becoming dis heartened with the lack of help on the net, i am starting to dislike his work all together.

  27. jagriti says:

    This poem is good as well as bad because afterwards it starts boring.but discription of weather of different seasons is amazing

  28. patricia a. boutilier says:

    The rhythym and the meter of this poem is exceptional. Robert Frost is a poetic master and novice poem makers do well to study his work. I honored his poem in one of my own “Mud Angels in Quick Time” at http://www.writing.com/authors/ridinghhood

  29. CP says:

    Robert Frost has a wonderful way of acknowledging that nature is always in the present and thats where we should be as well by exercising self-control. Easier said than done because a few universal common pitfalls are anger, fantasizing, forgetting and other mind games.

    Using death as an advisor( the lurking frost in the earth beneath) is a good way to stay on our own personal courses. The bluebird doesn’t waste it’s time.

  30. Marcus says:

    There is a lot of wisdom here.

  31. Pam says:

    I love this poem, it touches my heart and soul. I have been a nurse and a jewelry maker and this poem about splitting wood and who has rights to what work gets to the heart of both of those and so much more…Thank you Robert Frost and Thank you American Poems for putting this up on the web.

    Pam 🙂

  32. Karla says:

    This poem was so boring. I didn’t like it at all. We were required to read it for English class and I personally hated it!

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